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Observations and Microblogs from the Career Support Group of ex-IIScians

Gaurav Mittal brings technology to deprived

in Entrepreneurship/That Makes Sense by

Gaurav Mittal is an innovator, entrepreneur, hacker and in some ways a social worker determined to impact the lives of millions of visually challenged people. His latest work on a device called EyeD is already creating a measurable impact on almost 5000 users and counting many more with each passing day. The journey from an engineer to innovator is very interesting as well as inspiring and sharing this with CSG community is a pleasure.

He belongs to a small town in UP named Anpara. His father being an electrical engineer realized the importance of technology and obtained a computer with Windows3.0 installed in his office. Gaurav immediately took liking to the concept of computers and it became his passionate interest. However, he got his PC or ‘personal computer’ a desktop computer with Windows 95 after 3 years of persuasion.  Soon, he immersed himself in the world of computers and found a destination for his passion at IIT BHU. While at IIT, he developed and honed the skills of hacking and aspired to be a professional hacker. His dream got fulfilled very soon with an assignment as hacker at CITRIX technology. He thoroughly enjoyed the job of hacking the codes written by software developers and providing insights for securing and strengthening the software.  This experience enabled him to participate and win many innovation competitions while the ‘intrapreneurial’ environment of the organization helped in understanding the process of shaping an idea into a product. He was allowed a sabbatical of 3 months to work on such ideas and feels very fortunate to get that experience while working. These experiences positively sowed the spirit of entrepreneurship in him and the thought process.

A visit to the National Association for Blind (NABD) Bangalore in 2012 marks a turning point in Gaurav’s entrepreneurial journey. There he learnt the blind way of life (literally speaking) through experience for example, he was blindfolded and asked to go to main gate and come back to the room inside. He instantly recognized the fact that seemingly trivial tasks for people with vision translated into big challenges for the visually impaired. What impressed him most was the determined attitude of blind individuals in overcoming these challenges. His interactions with the NABD associates made him realize that some of them were extremely bright and could write software codes as well.  He could appreciate the challenges these students faced and how they could succeed in overcoming those to create something as complex as software codes.

During his visit to the association, there was another incident that set him up on the current journey. A senior official from a reputed company, who had lost his vision at an age of 30 years entered the room and greeted everyone but received no response from the 15 odd people present there. Everyone had an awkward feeling of confusion but patiently, he greeted once again. This time everyone responded and upon hearing the response, he turned himself to the crowd and faced them. During the first greeting, he was facing the audience backwards creating a slight awkward moment which got resolved subsequently. This particular incident left Gaurav pondering on the engineering solutions that could help visually challenged people feel the presence of people they are interacting with or their surroundings.

He turned these thoughts into a hobby project and created seven prototypes for seven different problems, including a glove with a camera and so on.  But he was shocked at the response received during the demonstration of these prototypes at NABD. His target audience rejected his prototypes as they did not address the ‘real’ challenges from a visual impaired perspective. He learnt an important lesson in innovation that day: always understand the needs of the target audience. He shares this piece of wisdom with all the budding entrepreneurs that to arrive at a solution with wide acceptance, it is important to communicate with the target and approach the problem with real world insights rather than embarking upon an intellectual pursuit. He now interacts very frequently with the staff and students at NABD to assess and understand their needs that require a solution and then designs the technology around those needs. He is motivated to come up with technologically superior solutions for the visually impaired life every time he interacts with his audience.  During one such interaction, he was asked a very interesting question on whether he can develop a technology that will enable identification of colors. The person had never seen colors but read about them in books and shared that he is dependent on family and friends to achieve even small tasks such as wearing color coordinated dresses and wishes to make these decisions independently without help. He understood that the most pertinent applications of technology in the visually impaired world are towards creating a self-reliant world where basic life activities can be conducted and enjoyed without help from others.

He decided to quit his job and make the hobby project into a professional goal that he is truly passionate about. He now works with a team of three to develop an app based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for visually challenged that helps them identify objects in their surroundings, colors of these objects, find nearest hospital, store, read printed text on labels  and documents (which is free at this point of time). A blind person walking on Indian roads might not realize they are going to step into a puddle but with this app, they can. They currently support 5000 plus monthly users and their goal is scaling up to a million users in the next 5 years.

App interface

The astounding response from the users who could read the label on aspirin bottle at night without anyone else’s help and could sleep well, add red bell pepper in their food as opposed to a green bell pepper and many other stories of self-reliance keeps them pacing towards the goal and motivated against all technological odds. To keep this communication alive, the users of the app can interact with the developers directly via SMS/call/live chat that is a distinguishing feature and a direct translation of the first lesson in innovation learnt by Gaurav.

Their interest in transforming the visually impaired life does not end with an app but continues with  designing more products and solutions such as an adaptable keypad that can be pasted to the keypad of smart phones and uses audio feedback for typing.This improvised device and app together allow usage of Whats App, Email and SMS by visually impaired. They are hoping to launch this product soon and recognized nationally by Government agencies to win an award called ‘best innovators of 2016’.

Eye-D keypad on a smart phone

We hope that their story encourages some more people to come forward and innovate for challenged sections of society. Gaurav says that there are millions of problems waiting to be solved. You, my reader, pick one and solve one. If not, fail at one?

 

About the Author

Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at IISc. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing. She posts her work on Facebook as Ipsawonders.

Edited by Dr. Satya Lakshmi

 

 

Managing time in Research

in Laapataa- The Indian PhD/That Makes Sense by

Like most researchers, I have struggled through my initial years of research to find my groove. While I can’t say with surety that I have found it eventually, it would be vain to deny how much learning has happened in these years. I don’t know about genius minds who, with even failing breath, can come out with ground-breaking ideas. I need some sanity in my life, some space in my mindscape, to be able to concentrate, think and look around. I have found methods of time management immensely valuable in keeping away clutter from my surroundings and my thoughts. Below, I share some simple techniques that can create chunks of time/space so that you can focus your energies in doing what really inspires you.

Why is Time management Important for Researchers?

Research Myths

It can’t be planned. Actually, the real purpose of planning is to plan away those hundred other chores you must do apart from your main duty, so that there’s enough time and energy to carry it out.
There’s too much time; too little to do. Most dangerous myth! There’s too much to do. It’s just not apparent. Identifying what to do is an inherent part of research. Give it time on a regular basis.
There are no customers. There are. And they are very demanding. And you have to sell your work to them; and sell very hard. Each research community creates very high bars for newcomers.

Shabbiness indicates genius. I see no reason to believe that merely by looking shabby, or by leading a shabbily managed day to day life, one proves his genius. And I feel, it’s stupid to barter success and satisfaction in work and life to a vain bloating feeling of being a genius.
Research is all about great ideas. As the famous saying by Edison goes: ‘Genius … 1% inspiration … 99% perspiration,’ research too is mostly about persistent, hard toil. Most of it is boring, uninteresting, mechanical and mindless to the core.

Differentiators of Research

So then, what is it that’s really different about research? Really, from the perspective of time management, there is no fundamental difference. Just that the values of some variables are different.

Incentives. The incentives for which researchers work is somewhat (not very) different from that for which non-researchers work. For example, a pat for your work, your name being added among the experts of your area etc. are more important than money, promotions and suave lifestyle to researchers.

Timelines. For researchers, timelines are fuzzier. Had it been possible to have crisp deadline for everything in research, it wouldn’t have been research. Moreover, the smallest atomic tasks that a researcher may have to do would usually be much larger in size than that of others.

Deliverables. The value of a researcher’s contribution to the world is rather hard to gauge. Sometimes, the profits from the same start coming back rather late: months, years, possibly decades after the idea was conceived.

Step 1. Getting back Your Focus

Respect your own time. A feeling that plagued me for a major part of my PhD was the feeling of not doing anything important. I feel this low respect for one’s own time is an occupational hazard of a PhD student. So it’s important to be on your guard against this feeling right from the first day. Everything done in the name of research is very important: literature review, downloading software, learning programming, assembling instruments, or interacting with suppliers.
Distinguish between recreation and distraction. Learn to identify when you are seeking distraction to escape work. It is all the more important to devote a stipulated amount of time to research when it doesn’t seem to be moving.
Minimise interruptions. The time of the day you have decided to devote to your lab work (or whatever it is in your research) must be protected with your life against petty interruptions. The interruptions may appear in many disguises: invitation for a cup of tea, phone calls, and most disastrous of all, the Web (mails, scraps, posts, wikipedia, Google…). Learn to say ‘No!’
Prioritise. Divide most of your time among a top few things which show up in your grand scheme of things.

Step 2. Overcoming Procrastination

Tips to overcome procrastination

Start small. When you are neck deep in the habit of procrastination, there’s only one way to get out: start small. Take baby steps. Keep small targets, achieve them and celebrate the victory profusely. Some examples: I will read this one section at a stretch; or I will get up after I have understood these 10 lines of code.

In the next iteration, raise the bar slightly. Things will gradually start falling in place.
Make it SMART.
S(specific)M(measurable)A(achievable, ambitious), R(risky, reasonable)T(timed) goals are the key to time management. For example, ‘I will present this paper tomorrow to my lab mate and make sure that he has understood’ it is a SMART goal. ‘I will understand this paper’ is not.
Create tangible commitments (e.g Involve others). When it’s hard at the individual level to ensure progress, quickly involve somebody else. Usually it could be your boss. But there’s no reason to start or stop there. Also, try to create stakeholders. This means that there should be tangible benefit for those who involve themselves in your work. Therefore, involving your friend in hearing you out in a mock presentation is fine; but presenting it to someone who might potentially be able to use it in his work is much better.

Reward yourself. In the beginning it worked for me to reward myself with some indulgence when I achieved tiny successes in defeating procrastination. For example, I used to promise myself a cup of coffee alone if I finished a small chunk of work. And on actually finishing, I used to make it a point to reward myself. It was very effective. Of course, the reward should always follow the achievement, and not precede it.

Step 3. Implementing Time management

Now, I introduce the method which, if roughly followed, will yield immediate benefit with little effort.

To-do List. The most rudimentary structure of time management is a to-do list. It is a dump of every task you want to do. As a part of your time-planning, it helps to create a to do list. This emerges from the tasks in your projects.

Schedule. A to-do list with chronological sorting of tasks is a schedule. To turn a to-do list into a schedule you have to first assign priorities to your to-dos. Based upon your estimate of how long they would take and when they ought to be completed, you allocate specific times to them. This results in a schedule.

Where to Keep your To-do List or Schedule?

Not your brain. Our brain comes with the birthright to forget. And forgetting is foul in the game of time management. Worded differently, brain is the most high-end tool we have at our disposal. There are better things than remembering trifles that you would like to use your brain for, for example, research.

Pocketbook. A little pocketbook contains the power of taking you out, away from the mess of having to recollect every now and then all your tasks and promises. It’s also the first step one takes in committing to the practice of not hiding behind forgetfulness as an excuse to laziness. Once you have it written down there, you aren’t any more allowed to completely forget anything.

Diary. As you get past the first few baby steps of time management, pocketbook soon starts proving inadequate and messy. While you would still like to keep your pocketbook for its versatility and lightweightedness, in the least, you need a page for each of your day. That’s a way of saying, ‘This is my day today!’

Planner. As you become somewhat advanced in managing your time, you start feeling the need for a more elaborate format. Something that has your tasks sorted, your goals placed at a visible place where you can refer to them often, a scratchpad where you can work on your plan (i.e. breaking down your goals into projects and sub-projects), and a space having your schedule of the days. Planners are the things to be adopted at this point. Planners come with detachable refills. So, you don’t have to carry a lifetime of sheets in your planner. Just keep the current ones.

Software. Software calendars like Google calendar, outlook calendar, KOrganizer etc. are sophisticated applications which allow you to schedule tasks and meetings, and get reminded of the same through various means: pop ups, emails and SMSs.

Important Note: Maintain only one scheduler, whether traditional or electronic.

Conclusion

Time management is one of the basic life skills we all ought to have learned in childhood. Like communication skill, analytical skill etc, time management is something that can be useful in all professions, in all walks of life. Fortunately, the subject of time management is no rocket science. It doesn’t require any special talents to manage one’s time well. It can be learned and profited from by anyone. I encourage you to experiment and find out what works best for you. A personalised combination of the tools above may turn out to be just the thing for you. Even as I write this article, I continue trying out new methods in search of what fits my needs the best. There’s no need to get stuck to one method.

The more critical and harder part of time management are: acceptance and implementation. To make it work for you, you must first trust that it is needed. Once you start, time management is to be implemented with discipline.

Resources

  1. Randy Pausch
  2. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
  3. Many Google and youtube videos. Just search for ‘time management.’
  4. KOrganizer (http://userbase.kde.org/KOrganizer)

To Bio or Not to Bio

in That Makes Sense by
Editor’s note: The members of the Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs might have fond remembrance of their teen years when it became nerve-wracking to make that choice. I am not referring about the choice of who-to-date but the choice of taking up Science, Commerce or Arts as majors to move-up the livelihood ladder. In the Sunday Blog from ClubSciWri, Sayantan Chakraborty brings out the ways where the lights should not go out on the aspirations of a starry-eyed biology undergrad. “To Bio or not to Bio” is one of the blogs that you might like to share with your friends who are helping their kids take decisions for their future careers after a biology major.  Surely, the kids are way smarter so Sayantan does mention that “Read, learn, and update yourself with the upcoming careers paths and how to mold your present to shape the future” and we are sure they will figure out how to beat the robots in creating a new Earth on Mars. Are you listening Elon Musk?- Abhinav Dey

Our neighbor’s child is now going to study MBBS after his class 12th. You should learn something from them.” This is a common dialogue in India. Every student in high school who studied biology gets to hear it – either from his/her parents or someone else. Although this can be said in many forms, it’s almost unavoidable, and parents tend to lose sleep pondering about their child’s career. In some cases, as soon as we are born, parents tend to decide our profession, most notably – engineering or medicine.

Given the significant population growth in India over the years, the sheer number of students has dramatically increased the competition amongst them. Competition is inevitable whether in life or in profession or in nature. But, it is not surprising to learn that students tend to follow the herd. A lot of them start preparing for their medical entrance examinations while some enroll for Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) courses (specializing in Zoology/Botany or any applied fields of biology). Those who can’t make it through the entrance exams, subsequently enroll for similar B.Sc. courses. Some of the curious and the enthusiastic minds move on to pursue a Ph.D. with a sheer will to become a Professor or a scientist in the future. Some make it, but the others move on to alternate careers. Becoming a professor or a scientist is a tedious and nerve-wracking journey and only those who tread this path would tell its tales. However, given the tight situation of academic positions, a number of PhDs switch to alternate careers even though the passion of being a scientist burns within them. Some transition out of academia in time, while others remain oblivious of alternate careers and their scope. Why is that? There are and could be many answers, but one of them is critical – the lack of proper guidance.

We, as school goers are never informed about the variety of prospects that we can explore apart from medicine or biological sciences post class 12th. Not every student is of the same intellectual level and although no one should ever under estimate themselves and stop dreaming big, they shouldn’t be kept in the dark about other career prospects. It’s better to prepare and work towards more options. Mentioned below are various career choices that a student who’s studying biology (along with other subject combinations) can prepare and decide for. As you might notice, these courses are different from the traditional biological courses (Zoology, Botany, Biotechnology, Microbiology, Genetics etc.).

  1. Law
  2. Fashion Technology/Design
  3. Journalism and Mass communication
  4. Web development/animations/graphics/multimedia
  5. Geology
  6. Event management
  7. Air hostess/pilot/aviation training
  8. Management education
  9. Bachelor of Audiology Speech Language Pathology.
  10. Forensic science
  11. Food Technology
  12. Agriculture
  13. Sports science
  14. Speech therapy
  15. Physiotherapy
  16. Nursing
  17. Pharmacy
  18. Hospital management
  19. Commerce streams (Chartered accountancy)
  20. Armed forces
  21. Civil services

While choosing a course of study, it’s very important to follow your passion and interests. Do NOT follow the herd! It’s recommended to take advice from well-wishers and peers alike, however, never let those advice dictate your path. Read, learn, and update yourself with the upcoming careers paths and how to mold your present to shape the future. Lastly, remember, nothing worth having comes easy.

 

The following websites were referred for this post:

http://www.apnaahangout.com/top11coursestodoafter12thscience/

https://www.quora.com/Whataresomeoptionsforabiologystudentafterclass12thinIndia

http://educationwalablog.blogspot.com/2013/05/top10careerafter12thsciencefor.html

 

About the author:

Sayantan Chakraborty

I am an IRTA postdoctoral visiting fellow at the National Institute on Aging – National Institutes of Health, Baltimore. Apart from science, I invest my time in networking, organizing events, and consolidating efforts to build a platform for guiding school students to their suitable career choice.

 

Featured image source: Pixabay

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

5 Mantras to ‘effectively complete’ THAT Online Course

in That Makes Sense by
Editor’s Note: A Brand New Year is here and everyone is abuzz in their minds with their New Year resolutions. At the Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs, a lot of members are resolving to fine tune their skills through online courses. But staying focused to complete these courses is no less harder than sustaining that gymming habit meant to lose those oodles of weight gained during the holiday season.  Well, trust Madhurima’s experience to help you in choosing those horses to cruise through those courses. ClubSciWri wishes for a successful and positive start to everyone’s 2017!- Abhinav Dey

 

Online courses have been around for a few years now. Coursera, Venture Labs and many more portals have innumerable courses ranging a wide breadth of topics. While online courses are the perfect place to go for those who want to learn new things, it is also a great way to build skills that will help you go up a few notches in your career. Some of the courses may be directly connected to your area of study or current work, while some may be diametrically opposite. Some of the learnings may be immediately visible and some may be more latent.

 

Five Mantras to effective complete that online course

  1. Choose a course that interests you 

Interest is the key word here.  Do not choose a course just because someone is doing it.  While there is a lot of flexibility, it is essential to remember that you have to figure out the best way to make the most out of them.  So, choose a course topic about which you are motivated to pick up a book or read the slides, end of a long day.

  1. Work with a study partner or a study group

They could be geographically spread out or even your close friends in the same city. It helps to have a partner in crime. Build a rapport and work together, making the most of each of your complementary skills.

  1. Plan for the course and create a time table

Plan the time commitment ahead.  Understand how much time you can invest in a six week course.  Prepare mentally for it, and then physically too. Treat it with as much seriousness as you would a regular course. Timetable for assignments and deadlines, make lists of what you have learnt, what is the next session about and your work that needs to be completed.

  1. Online courses are like a Pandora’s Box

You have to figure out how individual assignments work for you, video lessons, audio lessons and presentations.  During the course, also focus on the learning tool being used. Before you know, you have learnt a whole lot of new things.

  1. Self-motivation is the key

Remind yourself why you are doing this. Be disciplined. While you complete the suggested reading material, read anything you find on the topic. Always helps to widen your horizons, literally.

 

Speaking about my personal experience, I have done a few courses from Stanford Venture Labs on Creativity, Design Thinking and Technology Entrepreneurship. This was almost four years back. I did it with a few friends and the group study sessions were immensely helpful.  Also, the fact that we were from diverse backgrounds ensure lot of new learning, at both conceptual and practical level. I, over the years, have used the techniques/concepts learnt for my training sessions and they have been appreciated.  I guess as I write this piece, it is time I find that next online course.

 

Madhurima Das

About the author:

madhurima-das

A Human Resource Management (HRM) and Policy research consultant; passionate about psychology, poetry and people; grammar, writing and movies. Is also a HRM, Communications and Work-Life trainer. A clinical psychologist, with a doctorate degree in Human Resource Management from the Department of Management Studies, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Was the Chief Evangelist and Co-founder of Gubbi Labs’ Research Media Services and its flagship venture, the Science Media Center at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru. Blogs at www.madhurimadas.blogspot.com.

Edited by: Abhinav Dey

Image source: Pixabay

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

CSG LinkedIN Discussions

in That Makes Sense by

In an initiative to alert and engage members of the forum, the Career Support Group (CSG) for STEM PhDs had started an awareness campaign in August (2016) to improve their networking, presence and appearance on LinkedIN. We thank our members who have contributed for various suggestions and posts. Here is a briefing of all that was shared.

Are you new to LinkedIN? Want to know how to organize the profile and get the competitive advantage. We list a 15 points which will be helpful in creating and maintaining a competitive LinkedIN profile.

  1. Profile Picture: Don’t use profile pictures wearing shades, no full-size profile picture, use your single portrait image for the profile, not with your pets or friends. More info at https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/2014/12/5-tips-for-picking-the-right-linkedin-profile-picture
  2. Name: Include your full name, followed by degree or your specialization. Make sure your name appears when your name types on google, at least along with the specialization.
  3. Profile (include education, experience, honors, awards): Keep an up to date profile-avoid being unscrupulous. http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/professional-linkedin-profile/ Under each section of your degree, summarize what were the major achievements. Year gaps are unavoidable at times, but be honest. If you are anticipating a gap in near future, enroll for a course or internship – create an impression that you are engaged and targeted towards your goal. https://www.themuse.com/advice/17-musthaves-for-your-linkedin-profile
  4. Courses, volunteering and other interests: List all the courses and volunteering you have done at undergraduate, graduate and at any level. Everyone must have done some volunteering at any level, make sure to include.
  5. Skills: Add all the skills you have. Move the best skills to the top. Request people to endorse you for the skills which would help attracting the recruiters. Write a formal mail or short message or post on social media. Don’t forget sending a ‘thank you’ note for people who endorsed you.
  6. Recommendations: Ask your peers, mentors, colleagues or your mentees to recommend you on LinkedIN. Write to them asking you to recommend, in turn you can recommend them. Be honest in recommending, unlike a regular quid pro quo. http://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/write-linkedin-recommendation#sm.001fla1vzp6gd1e11i612u5bfnwxs
  7. Connections: Connect with colleagues, peers, mentors and mentees. Try to connect with people who are in your area of interest; send them a formal request rather than just sending a request as friend.
  8. Sharing and following on LinkedIN: LinkedIn is not Facebook; please don’t share unnecessary things. If you “like” some post on LinkedIn, it would be visible on the wall of your connections. So think before you like. Follow peers, companies and organizations of your interest.
  9. Premium account: More job postings are visible/available on premium account. What if you don’t want to buy premium and still want to take advantage? Premium account is free for a month; you can apply as many jobs as possible by using this facility in that month.
  10. Keep your momentum going: Keep in mind if you “like” some post at LinkedIn that would be visible on the wall of your connections. So think before you like. Same for making a comment which is also visible to your connections, think before you write a comment.
  11. Keep “who viewed your profile” option on, if you visit someone’s profile they should know you have visited and vice versa. Hiding the profile and stalking someone is not recommended.
  12. Send invitation requests, but if not accepted do not send repeated request.
  13. Read 10-20 minutes on topic of your choice on LinkedIN
  14. Try to learn at least one new thing in a week. In interviews it is not an uncommon question.
  15. Reach out to at least one connection per week

 

About the Author:

srinvas

Srinivas Aluri is postdoc at Albert Einstein College, NY. He is a fitness enthusiast, exercise and diet expert. He is also an international sports science association certified fitness trainer as well as American Heart Association’s CPR/AED certified professional.

Edited by Abhinav Dey

Photo source: Wikipedia

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This work by ClubSciWri is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

 

 

My trysts with stage fright

in That Makes Sense by

Public speaking. If these two words evoke a frightened sigh or a sudden desire to slowly vanish without anyone noticing, welcome to my erstwhile world. While I was always supremely confident in informal conversations with my peers, I stammered, stuttered, or just stayed quiet through most of the formal scenarios in high school. In 9th grade I was asked to read the poem ‘Macavity, the mystery cat’ by T.S.Eliot in our English class. The book was right in front of me and I did not even have to stand. And yet, as the teacher called out my name, I froze, and my heartbeat shot up. The pounding didn’t stop till well after I had finished. I didn’t actually do a bad job, but that did not prevent the onset of these symptoms again when I was offered the prospect of reading out aloud in class.

In 11th grade, I was determined to tackle this problem—I was well versed in the English language and was reasonably articulate, yet why did speaking in front of others terrify me? I joined leadership training classes. The class itself used to be almost empty, and all that was required was to speak on a random topic. The setting suited me perfectly—few people meant fewer witnesses to my shortcomings and the lazy pace helped me ramp up my confidence in tiny notches. However, a class strength of 5 meant that many-a-times, I was speaking to an almost empty class and after some initial flustering, I soon got habituated without a huge deal of improvement.

 

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

 

College life was low-key in terms of extra-curricular involvement. My pattern of debating and discussing with friends, while staying quiet in class continued. While two of my friends went on to participate in debating competitions, I could never muster up the courage. The next time when I had to talk in a formal setting was when I had to present my Masters’ thesis. My friends at university came from varied backgrounds, and some, unlike me, had to suffer the combined bout of stage fright and inexperienced meandering through the English language. Seeing my friends struggle and yet try their best to overcome their drawbacks did embolden me—we were all tensed and filled with dread, but in all fairness, their struggle was harder. My main armor in such a situation was to practice till I had the entire flow clear in my head. I would write down most parts of the talk, a practice I continue till this day, though I have become increasingly flippant about it. I think I practiced my talk at least twenty times before the final day, which helped me to deliver a decent lecture despite initial shakiness.

 

I … never could make a good impromptu speech without several hours to prepare it.“- Mark Twain

 

Joining the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) opened up a Pandora’s Box of opportunities for public speaking. We had regular ‘journal clubs’ which meant presenting a scientific paper in front of the department every few weeks. Adopting the adage of ‘practice makes perfect’ I made full use of my journal club slots. My presentations got better and the fright went down quite a few notches. As with many other irrational fears, the pounding heart, clammy palms, and the extreme anxiety have not really gone away. They appear at the beginning of every talk and yet with experience, I am able to manage them well—and are usually not detected by the audience. The pretense of confidence has been an old friend and as time passes, conviction continues to replace it.

One major turning point in this trajectory was joining the students’ council at IISc. I had been volunteering for quite some time, and soon got an opportunity to introduce the committee I worked for in the main auditorium during a freshers’ orientation program. It was a 3 minute talk and I was only co-speaking, but my stage fear came back in full force. I had never spoken in such a big hall before and lost quite a bit of sleep over that 3-minute introduction. I remember continually practicing the talk while pacing up and down  in the restroom on the program day. All the frenzied preparation paid off and the actual staged introduction (which was probably the 101st time I was vocalizing it) went off without a glitch. Since then I have given a lot of such 3-minute introductions, votes of thanks, and opening sentences for students’ council programmes during my tenure. I managed to be a (hopefully!) not-so-unsuccessful teaching assistant for the neuroscience module of the newly initiated undergraduate program at IISc. Much experience has been gathered, and the potency of stage fright seems less. While flamboyant, impromptu anchoring for shows or programs seems very unlikely, gearing up for a well-practiced academic talk does not seem as terror-inducing as before. In all this rigmarole, I would always remember the surreal jubilance I felt after giving that first 3-minute introduction—it was such a small thing in the light of so many significant milestones people cross, and yet, I knew, it was a very important personal landmark for me. I was the same girl who once trembled reading a poem out aloud, and had never imagined that I could actually talk to a big audience, and I had just done that. I remember that feeling afresh and it is one of those things that occupies my life’s memory box.

 

There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave.  The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.”  –Dale Carnegie

 

Public speaking is something integral to a scientist’s life, whether it is taking classes or giving talks at a conference. Not all scientists make brilliant speakers, and while that requires a different kind of effort, this piece is for all those out there who are struggling with a fear of public speaking. I believe what helped me was starting out in small groups, instead of accelerating into a high-pressure arena. If one looks around, one would see many with the same predicament, so do not give up! Practice groups also work wonders, however, if that is not possible, just practice aloud and do fair assessments. Take pride in the smallest of successes and egg yourself on! If I could reach a level of ease starting from the nadir, so can anyone else! You are your best cheerleader and if you stumble, inject some comfort and much-needed enthusiasm and get ready for the next round. The tougher the journey, the greater is joy of crossing the hurdle. There is no end to learning, there is no final destination, but only traversing from one elevating goal to the next, culminating in one remarkable path.

 

A book may give you excellent suggestions on how best to conduct yourself in the water, but sooner or later you must get wet, perhaps even strangle and be “half scared to death.” There are a great many “wet less” bathing suits worn at the seashore, but no one ever learns to swim in them. To plunge is the only way.” — Dale Carnegie

 

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About the author : Debaleena is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. She loves writing and has recently forayed into the domain of science writing.

Illustration : Ipsa

head-shot

Ipsa is a Ph.D. student at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, India. She wants to gather and spread interestingness. She prefers painting and drawing over writing.

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The myths about networking

in That Makes Sense by

During a recent talk  I gave on transitioning to tech transfer from academia at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Bronx, NY, USA), I was asked quite an interesting set of questions. In this write up I want to focus on two issues which I find many of the young academicians struggle as they plan their next career move.
A young aspiring postdoc asked me from the crowd “ When I see all the alternative career choices I get totally lost. I wonder what is the best fit for me?” I have been trained to think about the experiment and publish and enjoy the academic, intellectual rigor and I feel totally lost as soon as I see the list of alternative careers and wonder where should I start?”
Those who have transitioned to alternative careers have found that what helps most is talking to people who have made the leap. One can either reach out to alumni from your institutes or now with the availability of LinkedIn and Facebook you can reach out to people beyond your alumni and ask for an informational interview. From what I have seen people are always willing to help if you are earnest in your approach. During such interactions, you can ask them about the job roles and responsibilities and also how their academic training gets utilized in their new role outside academia.
An another approach to test whether you will be suitable for such a career would be to do internships/ online or regular courses which can give you the flavor of the job. In my case, an internship with technology transfer offices at Cornell CTL and Columbia CTV were of immense help. I had known beyond any doubt that this is exactly what I want to do. Of course, I had great mentors in tech transfer, and that always helps.

There is also a misconception that whether alternative careers can be intellectually stimulating given one of the things which drive most of us in academia is the intellectual aspect of the profession and of course the creativity. From what I have seen from my experience and from others who have transitioned more or less with me, one would be surprised to see the kind of smart people who runs the world outside academia. In fact, they many times brings more meaning to academic science as the science steps out of the lab. More than once during my interaction with my colleagues I have often wondered how much science would have benefited had they continued academia. Apart from academics, many are fluent from Beethoven to Shakespeare to Charlie Parker to Ravishankar…and often flawless in their assessment.

So my suggestion would be to talk to people, get to know about what excites them about their work and what doesn’t. When you meet people, you can also gauge from their personality that whether such a job will suit your personality or not. Even if nothing substantial comes out of the meeting, at least you will make an attempt to make a new friend outside academia, and that is a good start.

The another question that I got asked was “When should one start to network? Also, everyone will know that he or she is desperate for a job which will defeat the entire purpose of networking.”

Networking is not to seek a job. That is perhaps the biggest misunderstanding. No one asks for a job in networking. It is to find common ground. However, one should mention at a suitable time that you are ready for a new opportunity or challenge in your career. Moreover, networking events are the best places to find your mentors or sponsors and just like academia it always help to have them by your side.

I remember in one of the career development events at NYAS, New York a speaker said: “You should start networking from yesterday.” One should do networking throughout the year, whether you are in a job or looking for a job or planning to make a leap to a new field. I have known professionals who got great introductions from the people they met in jazz bars or from soccer matches they played together. So make sure you have a life outside lab to talk to people about your hobbies and interest. You will be surprised how hobbies can be a game changer.

One needs to learn the art of talking to professionals in networking events, and that once can develop with time. One of the best ways is to practice your introductory pitch, and that itself can take months. Remember the first impression always counts. We have seen many during networking events slips in his/her resume and that according to many is an absolute no. Everyone in networking events is in general aware that people who are attending the session have either came to learn about new opportunities, job description or are looking for new challenges, so don’t be shy. Keep a smile and reach out, show your strengths your passion and commitment to try new opportunities.

In a world we live in there are now other forms of networking. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook are all great platforms to network and meet interesting people. There are several career support groups. Join them, engage in stimulating and useful conversations. You will be surprised you will have friends sooner than you thought and who will vouch for you during your job search phase. Therefore, learn the tricks of social networking sites and use them to your advantage. Also, networking is not only about asking, but it is also about sharing and many comfortable forgets that part, unfortunately.

To conclude, meet new people with an open mind, help them if you can, all the person in front of you wants to know is how interesting are you professionally.

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Ananda

Enjoys good friends, music and adda.

Tweet@Andz79

Others who contributed substantially to the ideas expressed in the write-up are Roshni, Satarupa, Gaurav, Sutirtha, and Madhurima.

Image Courtesy: https://pixabay.com/en/truss-historically-stolberg-resin-1731118/

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Avoiding anxiety attacks in today’s contract based academic training-10 commandments

in That Makes Sense by

“It brings a persistent low-grade anxiety that lingers around my heart, sometimes traveling up to constrict my throat as the time remaining on my contract dwindles. Rinse, and repeat. For years. I don’t know what impact this lifestyle is having on my health, but it can’t be good.” The Guardian about contract based positions in academia. https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2016/dec/02/short-term-contracts-university-academia-family?CMP=share_btn_tw

How to circumvent the situation?

As long as you are in Ph.D., things are fine, there is a stability for at least 5-6 yrs where a continuous source of scholarship is promised on paper, however, the situation changes once you are a scholar and now want to move onto the next obvious training in academia which is postdoc and which is unfortunately, CONTRACTUAL. The training is a must to pursue an academic career and rightly so.

But how to avoid getting trapped by the feeling described aptly above?

Here are 10 points which I feel might help:

  1.  Do not put all your eggs in one basket.
  2. Be aware of the employability scenario.
  3. Network and meet people, talk to people, use social networking sites.
  4. Develop SKILLS beyond the bench, Ph.D. is a long time to DISCOVER yourself- what you are good at and what you are not made for.
  5. Be truthful to your potentials- Most of us are not truthful to ourselves. We will ignore all the signs which tell us that this might not be the right thing for us, till we fall into the trap.
  6. Do proper due diligence on the Postdoc lab.
  7. Choose mentors not the university.
  8. Think ahead-Plan the career, does not mean you should not relax and enjoy your life outside the lab hours.
  9. Have alternative BACKUP plans.
  10. Have a financial plan from day one of Ph.D. – It will help in the times of despair.

 

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Ananda

Enjoys good friends, music and adda.

Tweet@Andz79

Image Courtesy:

Copyright “Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham
www.phdcomics.com

 

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Aarthi Existential

in Sci-Pourri/That Makes Sense by

Aarthi Parthasarathy is a very well-known artist and film maker who finds joy in nurturing the creative energy within her and others and successful at doing so. She defies the conventional definition of success in terms of power or money but that does not lessen her happiness even by an ounce as per her own admission. She found a way out of our existing education system and its traps to set up a film making studio with her friend and colleague Chaitanya. They work out of a cozy nook that houses animators, sculptors, musicians, photographers, and product designers. She is also part of kadak collective that creates a platform for women comic writers and artists to tell uncensored stories on gender disparity.

Well, her journey is certainly not straight forward but rather quite bumpy and curvy and luckily she had her seat belts on. She grew up in erstwhile Bombay which is ‘Mumbai’ now and throughout schooling has been an A+ grade student as per present day standards. Siddharth Basu’s or Derek O’ Brien’s quiz shows and encyclopedias and ‘tell me why’s books filled her childhood spare time. As she started understanding the world better, she loathed the current teaching practices that made her memorize than learn. She found herself craving for learning out of school (as it was not possible within school) and started drawing inspiration plus learning from real lives through reading biographies echoing Gaurav Goyal’s conversations with club sciwri (http://www.sciwri.club/archives/1664). If we think that Aarthi is alone in her disbelief in the education system, the MHRD survey shows that the highest dropout rate for science students happens after the bachelor’s degree ( http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/statistics/EAG2014.pdf). The reasons for this could be twofold: one, not many attractive (well-paying except IT) career opportunities after science education and two, teaching practices killing curiosity, the backbone of scientific success.

Coming back to Aarthi and her journey, she indulged in a lot of self-learning by visiting the libraries, reading books and watching plays to satisfy her curiosity to learn about the world. During one of those visits, life caught her unaware. She stumbled upon a book by J.Krishnamurthy, the well-known philosopher and founder of Rishi Valley School. In a brief moment she realized that the cause of her inner struggle was the awkwardness of fitting in a fractured society. The exact words that brought about the transformation in her  are “I wonder if we have ever asked ourselves what education means, why do we go to school, why do we learn various subjects, why do we pass examinations and compete with each other for better grades? What does this so called education mean, what is it all about? This is really a very important question, not only for the students, but also for parents, for teachers,why do we go through struggle to be educated? Is it merely to pass some examinations and get a job? Or is it the function of education to prepare us while we are young to understand the whole process of life? Having a job and earning one’s livelihood is necessary-but is that all? …”  These words became an anchor to her thought process and as a constant reminder and companion; she carries a copy of the book with her always.

She wanted to be a doctor or geologist and the anxiety caused by endless hours of study were made tolerable by creative outlets like writing, painting and other forms of art. She was fighting her inner urge to learn independently through reading, thinking, making, and experimenting just for the love of doing it, to scratch an itch, follow the compass of passion versus making a clone of her to fit into the fractured and moulded society. An answer to her struggles lay in the hands of most unexpected quarters, a clerical mistake. At St.Xavier’s college Mumbai, a clerical mistake with an application for geology was turned into an admission for B.Sc Economics drove her towards pursuing the next best thing that she loved arts. She interviewed at Shrishti College of Arts where the faculty set up ingenious interviews and made students perform creative tasks for a period of four days. She fell in love with the people, the teaching, the college and the learning instantly.She explored the art of learning and teaching through storytelling using various forms of visual communication and she still gets fascinated everyday by the light, color, composition, and framing;and how it all blends to culminate in a beautiful story. She is glad about giving ears to her inner voice and finding something she enjoys doing every day and not being a clone (of doctor or geologist or whatever) struggling inside forever participating in a ruptured society.

The story of her journey only reiterates what all of us know but seldom practice. Education should teach us the courage to explore and listening actively to voices from within to hone our natural abilities and become truly happy individuals, not just successful clones. Education in its true essence would teach us to seek answers for the inherent quests and find happiness in those pursuits.

Find her work at https://www.facebook.com/royalexistentials/ and https://www.behance.net/aarthipartha

Image is taken from her weekly blog, Royal Existentials with her permission.

The article was written by Satya Lakshmi.

satya

Satya Lakshmi is a scientist by profession and an explorer by hobby. She is constantly on the lookout for the next learning adventure and loves reading. You can find her pursuing professional interests at the interface of biology and business.

Ipsa Jain interviewed Aarthi and helped editing the piece.

 

The question: Burning excess calories post exercise

in SciWorld/That Makes Sense by

Combining resistance and endurance exercises potentiates fat loss and muscle hypertrophy

You don’t burn calories while working out alone, body continues to burn calories even after the cessation of the workout. It was attributed to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which remains high after aerobic exercise as well as anaerobic exercise. In addition, lactic acid produced, during strenuous exercise, in muscle cells has to be diverted/oxidized back to other metabolites, which might also contribute to the excess calorie consumption after the workout. These 2 hypotheses however could not completely explain burning of more calories after exercise.

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The science behind

Researchers at Harvard University detailed the science behind these hypotheses. They found that endurance induces a hormone which converts white adipose tissue (tissue which stores fat) into brown adipose tissue (tissue which burns fat). Irisin is the hormone produced upon endurance exercise in mice and human subjects which regulates this process. Irisin has been in the news ever since as an exercise hormone. In another study, by the same group, they found the scientific reason why resistance exercise induces muscle hypertrophy. When human subjects performed resistance exercises such as leg press, chest press etc., Insulin like growth factor (a hallmark protein for muscle hypertrophy) production was enhanced.

Interestingly, both the endurance and resistance exercise benefits were under the control of a master protein called PGC1 α. This protein is differentially produced in the body according the nature of the exercise performed. If endurance exercise is performed it produces the beneficial effects of burning fat; if resistance exercise is done muscle hypertrophy results.

PGC1 α is very important protein, a person’s athletic performance is determined in part by it. Genetic mutations in this protein affect athletic performance of the individual.

Kill two birds with one stone: resistance and endurance exercise

It was also reported that PGC1-α is induced at a higher level when resistance (anaerobic) exercise is performed after endurance (aerobic) exercise, which is called concurrent training. Combining both exercises, thus, will have a synergistic effect on overall health.

The future

There has been no golden rule for how much workout has to be done for achieving desirable health benefits- either fat loss or muscle gain. It could be possible, in future, that amount of production might be used as readout for endurance or resistance exercise for each individual. Proper exercise regime and nutritious diet could help maintain general wellbeing and attain dream physique.

 

 

About the Author:

srinvas

 

Srinivas Aluri is postdoc at Albert Einstein College, NY. He is a fitness enthusiast, exercise and diet expert. He is also an international sports science association certified fitness trainer as well as American Heart Association’s CPR/AED certified professional.

P.S: This article was blogged at an untraceable place. It’s been edited and published here.

 

Photo source: builtlean.com and Pixabay

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